Proletarskaya Gazeta #23
March, 2004

Rights Are Not Given, They Are Taken

Experience of the Class Struggle

All-Ukrainian Workers Union

The bourgeois regime of the Ukraine is boasting all over about the economic growth in the country. One must recognize that there has been a certain rise in the economy for the last two years. But it does not clearly correspond to those rates proclaimed by bourgeois authority. I will not analyze the reasons for a certain revival of the economy; I will only dwell on two questions – how this has been reflected in the life of the workers of the Ukraine and their fight for their rights and vital interests.

Since 1998 there has been a noticeable decrease in the activity of the working class movement in the Ukraine. The last powerful protests of workers took place in a number of regions of the country in 1998 under the leadership of the All-Ukrainian Workers Union (AUWU). Subsequently the attempts of the All-Ukrainian Workers Union to begin organized protests collapsed. An oppressive lull in the working class movement began. Taking into account the prevailing situation, the council of the AUWU decided to concentrate its efforts on qualitatively strengthening the active membership of the All-Ukrainian Workers Union and solving other important problems of the infrastructure. During the years of lull in the working class movement we succeeded in solidifying into a strong nucleus those active members who consistently took up Marxist-Leninist positions and were prepared to defend them in practice in the class struggle against the exploiters together with the mass of the workers and in their front ranks.

In the middle of the last year mass demonstrations of workers in defense of their rights began to take place again throughout the Ukraine. These actions began to increase considerably. What were the fundamental reasons for this new wave of workers’ protests? The first reason, in our opinion, was the considerable increase in the exploitation of the workers. The economic revival led not only to an increase in the volume of production, but also to an increase in the burden on each worker at the same level of wages and with a worsening in working conditions. The increase in volume of production, moreover, was accompanied by a reduction in the number of workers, not by means of the work of an larger work force. This began to cause indignation among the workers. The second reason we connect to the fact that the bourgeois regime of the Ukraine has completely discredited itself in the eyes of the oppressed masses. The Ukrainian workers lost any illusions that the bourgeois authorities would take the side of workers in the conflict between the owners and the workers. Ukrainian workers are no longer searching for justice as workers in bourgeois courts, the prosecutor’s office or other bourgeois authorities. These illusions have disappeared, we hope, for good. Moreover, the workers are clearly convinced that even those limited rights and freedoms for the oppressed masses in the bourgeois Constitution are insolently ignored by the bourgeois authorities in favor of capital. This forces the workers to independently search for ways to protect their own rights and interests; it provides a stimulus for them to speak decisively against bourgeois oppression and arbitrariness.

I will give some concrete examples to prove the above.

Three months ago workers of the Lisichansk soda factory rose up to fight for their rights. They intermittently began to block the railroad and the highway between Lugansk and Donets, thus winning their demands. This action took place with the participation of the All-Ukrainian Workers Union. We unexpectedly learned that a week ago a similar protest action spontaneously broke out at the "Galol" factory in the L'vov region. We immediately sent our representative to this factory.

In such situations, we first of all send our deputies from Supreme Council of the Ukraine to such flashpoints. At the moment the All-Ukrainian Workers Union has only one deputy in the parliament of the Ukraine – Comrade Bondarchuk. In such a situation we pose to our deputy the following basic problems:

Furthermore, the direct participation of our deputy in the protests of the workers will help him organize his activity as a deputy on the basis of real information about the life and struggle of the workers. This makes it possible for our deputy to come forward on behalf of the masses of workers by their direct mandate and to count on their real support. This makes it possible to use his powers as a deputy in the interests of the working class and its struggle.

By taking part in the protests, we pose ourselves the problem of pushing the workers to more radical demands, slogans and actions. We try to convince workers to make demands beyond the limits of their enterprise – in the city streets and on the railroad lines. Then the protests of the workers will attract the attention of the other oppressed masses of the city and will draw them into joint struggle against the oppression and arbitrariness of the bourgeoisie. In this way the vanguard role of the working class in the struggle of wider layers of the oppressed masses against their common enemy – the class of oppressors – will be achieved in reality. At the same time, the workers will take their protests to the bourgeois authorities at a higher level, and through these authorities to the class of exploiters as a whole. As a result of the practical struggle on a broader scale, the consciousness of the workers will begin to overcome the psychology of self-interest, tied to small-group interests, and will become class-consciousness. We try in every way possible to help the worker get rid of dangerous and infectious anarcho-syndicalist and trade unionist illusions. We consider endless haggling in the administrative offices between the chiefs of the trade unions and the exploiters for an "improvement" in the contract to be at best a first, primitive level of the development of the workers struggle, and at worst a dangerous error which leads the struggle of the workers into the blind alley of eternal servitude and begging. Rights are not given; they are taken! Are we right or not? The correctness of this slogan is proven not only by the science of classes and the class struggle, but it is convincingly confirmed by repeated historical practice. Moreover, the spontaneous demonstrations of the workers in the Ukraine have also become more and more radical, i.e., life itself again leads to a similar conclusion.

We have never denied that the study by the workers of the theory of the class struggle is the most important element in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. This study, first of all, must provide for training competent leaders and activists from the ranks of the workers - agitators and propagandists, organizers of protests and revolutionary demonstrations. Competent activists do not arise by themselves from the framework of trade unionism, nor do they arise by way of agreement with the bourgeoisie, but they will also not be allowed to arise when their comrades choose this path

Nevertheless a significant number of workers are rapidly mastering the science of the class struggle through practice. Knowing this and having a certain experience from the past, we decided to organize a unique school for training the workers, first of all the activists, through practice in radical forms of struggle for our rights. How does such training emerge? I will demonstrate this clearly.

Next week another protest at the Lisichansk soda factory is planned for which the road will be blocked. We invited several representatives of the trade union from the "Galol" factory in the L'vov region to take part in this action, after ensuring them passage into Lisichansk sponsored by the AUWU. Furthermore, we decided to invite representatives of the workers from the Kharkov "Hammer and Sickle" factory and from a number of other enterprises in the Ukraine. This will not only let them take part in the protests in a concrete practical situation, but it will also let them feel that they are the representatives of the class, and not just of a single group of workers. This will help rally individual groups of workers into an organized class force; it will help create and strengthen proletarian solidarity in practice.

In the factories of the Ukraine the dominant position is occupied by bourgeois trade unions. By using protests in enterprises, we try either to begin creating independent workers trade unions or to convince the workers to unofficially replace the management’s henchmen in the leading trade-union organs of the enterprises with activists in the protests, that is, with our supporters. If our supporters at the factory are the numerically decisive force, then a change of leadership of the reactionary trade union takes place. If our supporters are in a minority, then we proceed with creating an independent workers trade union. In particular, at the Lisichansk soda factory and at the Karl Marx factory in Dnepropetrovsk, we succeeded in replacing the leadership of the reactionary trade union with our supporters, and at the Azovstal, the Azov Metallurgical Plant, we began the creation of an independent workers trade union.

In accordance with current legislation the leaders of a trade union cannot be fired from their jobs without the agreement of their trade union. Therefore we are trying to expand the circle of leading people in the trade union. Thus we are trying to protect, at least formally, the greatest number of progressive workers from repression by management. But this formal protection does not always save workers from reprisals. Sometimes it is necessary to maneuver, to resort to different contrivances in order to prevent activists from being fired and to save the independent trade unions from a crushing defeat. I will give an example.

Last year at the Azov Metallurgical Plant there was a mass layoff of workers –about 4.5 thousand people were dismissed. Several hundred of the workers who remained at the plant, feeling the permanence of the situation, officially left the reactionary trade union and created an independent trade union to organize to defend their rights. Management brought down a torrent of repression on the trade union as a whole and on members of the independent trade union personally. Management filed lawsuits against the workers trade union in order to liquidate it with the aid of the bourgeois courts or at least to divert the workers trade union from the struggle and direct its efforts into a court fight, and the members of the trade union began to threaten to resign. In order to gain time and disorient management, workers wrote statements about leaving the independent trade union and they made them known to the administration, but they categorically refused to join the reactionary trade union. The same workers somewhat illegally wrote a repetitive statement about joining the independent working trade union, but they hid this fact from the administration.

The bourgeois authorities attentively follow the development of the working class movement and try in every way possible not to allow demonstrations with economic demands to grow over into a class struggle of the proletariat. They are trying to squash the struggle of the workers in its initial stage. In particular, if they discover that a worker has a copy of the newspaper "Working Class" or if they determine that he has joined the All-Ukrainian Workers Union, the worker is immediately fired from the factory under any pretext or even without any pretext – although the All-Ukrainian Workers Union is officially registered with the Ministry of Justice of the Ukraine and "Working Class" is a legal newspaper. Therefore we are involuntarily forced to combine legal and illegal forms in organizing the workers and leading the class struggle.

We have no illusions about the possibility of gaining any radical changes in the life of the oppressed masses through parliamentary reforms, but we support voting in elections for bourgeois legislative organs and the election of deputies for mass political agitation and organizing of the class struggle. We see this as only auxiliary work, not the main direction of our political activity.

The struggle of the Ukrainian workers is developing not only on the basis of their own experience. We thoroughly study the contemporary experience of the struggle of the Russian workers and we try to use it in our practice. In particular, we utilize the experience of the "rail wars" of the Russian proletariat and the experience of the struggle of the Leningrad workers of the Vyborg TsBK [Tsellyulozny-Bumazhny Kombinat – Cellulose-Paper Combine]. Our representatives were at the Vyborg TsBK in the days of the stormy events there and brought us in the Ukraine considerable valuable information.

If several years ago the workers movement in Russia was considerably ahead of the protests of the Ukrainian workers, at present the situation is reversed – although in part the state of the economic situation in Russia and the Ukraine is basically similar.

In our view, the basic reason for the reversal of this situation, for the lull in the Russian working class movement, is caused by the heightened illusions among significant numbers of Russian workers that the bourgeois authorities at any time can come over to the side of the workers in their conflict with the owners of the means of production, the capitalists. We are sure that within the next few years these illusions will disappear, first of all as a consequence of the reactionary policy of the bourgeois authorities of Russia and the increase in exploitation.

The economic interests of the Ukrainian and Russian bourgeoisie are tightly interwoven, without any national prejudices and they absolutely coincide on the question of the suppression of the class demonstrations of the proletariat in both countries. Therefore it is necessary for the Ukrainian and Russian proletariat to strive for the most decisive and concrete unity of their efforts in the struggle with the class enemy – to exchange their experiences in struggle, to coordinate their protests and revolutionary actions, to support each other in every way possible. To ignore this need would be an unpardonable and dangerous error in the revolutionary working class struggle of our countries.

V. Tereshchuk

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